How Does an Unmarrried Father Establish his Legal Rights in the State of Florida?

Paternity-Fatherhood-Florida-Law-300x189Learning that you are expecting a child is one of the most exciting and life changing moments that parents experience.   Between the planning and wonder of what this new life will bring to your life, parents are on a roller coaster from the beginning.    In cases where the parents are not married and remain together, it seems like the perfect setting as you embark on a new aspect of your relationship.   In some instances, the years pass, and the couples stay together, as if just like married couples, raising their families and sharing in the memory making moments.   In others, just like married couples, the struggles of daily life and raising children take their toll on the central relationship between the parents and break ups occur.

We are faced in many cases where new fathers come in asking about their parental rights at various stages in the process of both expecting and raising their baby.    In Florida, if you are not married to the mother, Chapter 742, Florida Statutes, contains the state laws on how fathers and mothers can establish the rights of the Father.  Even if you have signed the birth certificate for your child, this act does not convey rights for decision making or timesharing to your child.  Many fathers are unaware that they need to take legal action to formally establish their rights as a father beyond just signing the birth certificate.    In many instances, we are asked when should I do that? Should I file paternity even if the mother and I are living together and raising our child together?

Our answer is simple.   You should file to establish your parental rights as soon as possible to the child’s birth, regardless of the living situation with your child’s mother or father.   This is important to establish your rights as a parent both moving forward with raising your child together and in case, your relationship breaks down.   In these situations, establishing yourself as a parent, or establishing the father’s rights, while you are still living together should be welcomed by both parents.   As a follow up to our answer, we often are asked, “but doesn’t that mean I will have to pay child even if we are living together?” The answer is no, you can establish your parental rights, and determine decision making responsibilities between yourself and the other parent while you get along so that should the parties break up, you already have the process started, and you can quickly modify your already existing paternity order to include timesharing and child support, while also maintaining consistency for your child.

In addition, if you have any lingering concerns of whether you are the child’s father, you can request DNA, or you can waive your right to genetic testing.    If you do not establish your rights as a parent, under Florida law, until you do, the mother is the default parent and has sole timesharing, decision making, and can quickly move to establish child support without affording you any time or rights to your child.    It is in your best interest regardless of the status of your relationship, to put your child’s needs first and move to establish your rights as a parent.  Consulting with an experienced family law attorney about your particular facts is the most important step that you can take in planning for your child’s future, and how you will continue to be part of your child’s life.

Just like planning for college and braces, or even considering names, your child has a vested interest in having a relationship with both parents.   The courts are very clear that a child is most successful when both parents are active and can cooperate through the child’s life to bring out the child’s best.  Hurt feelings of court action should come second, as both parents need to understand that these steps are merely to protect the child’s best interest.